Sharpening the Saw

Sharpening the Saw

I grew up in a small brick rowhouse in a neighborhood about a half-mile outside of Baltimore City, Maryland.  My front yard was about the size of a postage stamp and the backyard was about the size of an envelope.  In order to avoid having to mow the grass in the backyard, my father, who was a construction worker, tore out the lawn and made the entire backyard into a concrete pad.  Most of what surrounded my childhood home was concrete and asphalt with a few trees and blades of grass here and there.  All of this to say that I did not grow up a country boy with the knowledge of how to do much with my hands.

My father had a few tools laying around the house that he generally would not let me touch as a kid.  One of those tools was an electric chainsaw that he inherited when my grandmother died.  The chainsaw sat in our basement unused for quite a while gathering dust.  One summer evening, my father told me that the next day while he and my mother were at work, he wanted me to cut some of the branches off the neighbor’s tree that were hanging over our yard.  Being a city boy, I had no real idea on how to cut branches off a tree.  A couple of the branches were quite thick, so breaking them off was not an option.

The next day I stood in the backyard looking up at the branches pondering how I was going to remove them.  I decided that the old electric chainsaw was the way to go.  I had never used any type of saw in the past, but using a chainsaw (even an electric one) seemed manly to me.  I grabbed the chainsaw and an extension cord from the basement, and headed out to the backyard.  I climbed the ladder, put the chainsaw chain against the first branch and pulled the trigger on the saw.  As I watched the chain spinning against the branch, I realized that it was not doing much cutting.  After a few seconds, it started smoking quite a bit.  It turned out that the chain was so dull, the only cutting it was doing was through friction, thus the smoke.  The saw was so dull that it would have taken an hour to get through the first branch and the smoking was more than I could take.  I ended up using a handsaw and taking hours to cut down the branches.

Cutting tree branches with a dull electric chainsaw is not the way to get work done efficiently.  If you want to cut trees, you have to make sure that you keep your saw sharp.  Likewise, if you want to be successful in business, and in life, you need to continually “sharpen the saw.”  I wish I could take credit for coming up with this term, but Stephen Covey coined the term in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  This is habit 7 of 7 in Mr. Covey’s book and is a habit that should be put into practice by every business owner.

Sharpening the saw is about taking care of ourselves so that we can effectively take care of our businesses and other people.  Sharpening the saw involves cultivating the four vital dimensions of our lives: physical, mental, social/emotional and spiritual.  If you do not take care of yourself in these four areas, your saw will be dull and you are not going to achieve the results you desire.  Also, like cutting with a dull electric chainsaw, you might get things done, but it will take far too much effort and produce a lot of smoke and noise.  Keeping the saw sharp often makes life’s task much easier and allows you to do more in less time.

Sharpening your physical dimension involves regular physical exercise.  Studies of shown that people who exercise regularly have more energy and are generally more productive.  My wife and I exercise almost every morning in one form or another.  It is a regular part of our day.  If we do not exercise, it feels like something is missing from our day.  We have been doing it for so long, it is a part of who we are.  If you aren’t exercising now, the American College of Sports Medicine states that “Physically inactive but otherwise healthy asymptomatic persons may begin light- to moderate-intensity exercise without medical clearance and, in the absence of symptoms, progress gradually in intensity as recommended by current ACSM exercise prescription guidelines.”  Asymptomatic as used in this statement means persons having no symptoms of cardiovascular, metabolic or renal disease.  So, don’t let the old mantra that you have to see a doctor before you start exercising prevent you from starting.

Sharpening your mental dimension involves educating yourself and continually stimulating your mind throughout life.  One of the most beneficial things you can do is read.  Reading is foundational to learning and to mental stimulation.  Don’t just read things online though, read books, magazines and newspapers.  Make a deliberate effort to set aside time each day to do some reading and challenge your brain.  You will be amazed by all that you can learn by reading good books and publications.

Social/emotional saw sharpening is about practicing habits 4-6 in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  To sharpen our social/emotional saw blade, we have to practice how we interact with others.  Briefly stated, habits 4-6 are thinking win/win, seeking first to understand then be understood and creating synergy by working effectively with others.  If you isolate yourself and do not interact effectively with others, your blade will become dull.  This truth as been known for thousands of years.  As it states in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Finally, the fourth dimension to be sharpened is your spiritual dimension.  This dimension is personal and different for everyone.  Some ways to sharpen your spiritual dimension are to pray, read scripture, serve in your local church and attend a weekly worship service at your church or house of worship.  Sharpening this dimension also involves looking at your core values and determining what they are and then evaluating whether you are living by them.  If your core values and your actions do not square up, the saw blade is dull and needs some sharpening.

Sharpening the saw on a daily basis is one of the keys to success in life and in business.  I once took a class on managing multiple priorities.  A central part of the ideas taught in that class was setting aside time on a regular basis to sharpen the saw.  The instructor suggested making a block schedule for every day and including a block for saw sharpening activities.  One of the most useful things for me to do to sharpen the saw is reading industry specific news articles every morning.  It allows me to keep up with what was going on in the health care industry.  When I was an agency owner, it was amazing how many times I was able to use the information I learned from trade publications at networking events or when talking to a potential referral source.  

Make time to regularly sharpen the saw and you will see positive results in your business life and your personal life.  Don’t make the mistake like I did as a kid and use a dull chainsaw to tackle life’s issues.

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